This weekend’s task is to write up a substantial essay for university (so, of course, I’m blogging about it instead). The subject is how new media (e.g. social networking sites, blogs) has affected the marketing of celebrities and the interaction between celebs and their fans. Specifically, I’m looking at how Wil Wheaton’s career was revived through his writing (mainly on his blog, WIL WHEATON dot NET).
Things are changing, but in the past, academics have taken the view that everything about a celebrity’s image is manufactured and fake. Our (the fans) relationships with them are therefore fake, and any emotional connection we may feel is therefore nothing short of pathological. We’re an inch away from going full John Hinckley Jr.
If you’ve ever read this blog you’ll have gathered that I don’t completely share that view, but it makes for an interesting discussion. In fact, yesterday we had a formal debate in class about whether or not celebrities are the ‘ultimate construction of false value’. Leaving aside my hatred for debates (I enjoy public speaking, but DO NOT make me think on my feet or speak without time for written preparation. DO NOT. And get that telephone away from me), it was interesting to see how passionate people became about the subject (and about One Direction).
One question continually asked in the literature about celebrities is, ‘Why we are still fascinated by them if we believe that their images are manufactured? What’s the appeal?’ The answer seems like a no-brainer for me, but not one out of the stack of books I’ve read for this essay mentions it, so maybe I’m wrong.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not they are all ‘manufactured’ (highly unlikely), it seems to me that celebrity culture works the same way as a TV show or a movie franchise. We pick our favourite character – one who is funny, or who we see something of ourselves in, or who we want to be like – and we follow their story. We tune in to find out what happens next. Does the former child star get hooked on drugs and run his car into a tree? Can he get unhooked and go on to win an Oscar? Does the squeaky-clean girl decide to do the movie with the nude scenes? Can America’s sweetheart get the husband and the kids she’s always wanted? Will the cheater’s new love manage to reform him, or does he prove to be the leopard that can’t change its spots?
Just like our favourite TV characters, we also like to know personal things about them. Does Kate Moss eat chocolate or does she exist on carrots? Does Justin Bieber ever wear clothes properly? How many reps does Chris Hemsworth need to do to get those guns? Does Jennifer Lawrence trip over every day, or only at awards ceremonies? We want to go through the Stargate and find out about the planet on the other side.*
The one thing that does get mentioned a lot in the literature is the desire to see celebs as ‘normal’, ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘ordinary underneath’. We want to think they’re really just like us, because that would mean that we can be like them. Of course people want to be famous. We don’t want to be sitting at home alone on a Saturday night or pen-pushing (mouse-pushing?) or grave-digging or burger-flipping or dealing with difficult bosses or trying to help clients when we don’t know what we’re doing or wearing uncomfortable polyester work shirts with name tags on them or writing stupid self-appraisals when our job’s so boring we could do it in our sleep. We want to be relaxing on a yacht, reading our next script, or pottering around a log cabin overlooking a lake and writing our next best-seller, or eating pizza in Abbey Road Studios with a bunch of fascinating people who are playing on our next album.
Or…is that just me? Am I normal? Maybe if I find out that that highly successful, rich, intelligent celebrity also burns his toast and can't get a date, I’ll know that I’m going to be OK.
*Spoiler: it probably looks like Canada.